Staging Orson Welles: an interview with Jack Marshall on NATIVE SON, MOBY DICK–REHEARSED and THE CRADLE WILL ROCK
Interview with JACK MARSHALL
Artistic Director of The American Century Theatre, on their production of Native Son
By LESLIE WEISMAN
It's alright to steal from each other, what we must never do is steal from ourselves.
--Jake Hannaford, in The Other Side of the Wind.
By Lawrence French
Francis Ford Coppola received a well-deserved tribute at The San Francisco International Film Festival, on May 1 and spoke in some detail about his long career in the movies. He was also asked about his work writing a film starring Orson Welles (more about that to follow).
Coppola was joined on stage at the historic Castro Theater by many of his director friends and family, including, most notably, George Lucas, but while talking about his new film TETRO, Coppola made these remarks, which I think make a wonderful introduction to Wellesnet contributor Leslie Weisman's interview with Jack Marshall, as they point out that Coppola was originally a theatre student, and when starting out he copied from the best, namely Tennesseee Williams, Kazan and Orson Welles:
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: When I began as a young man, I was a theatre student, from 1957 to 1960 and I saw wonderful films that were coming to America from Europe into what were then the art houses, and I think all of my contemporaries were wide-eyed at the beautiful movies we saw coming from Italy, France, Sweden and Japan.
So we wanted to do that. We all wanted to make 'cinema' and I didn't ever imagine I was going to be a real studio type of director. So when I began, I was writing a more personal type of movie. So while I was a theatre student, my Gods were Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan and when you are young, you always start out sort of copying the people you admire, even though it's really impossible to copy them. But it gets you going, that's the purpose. My father who was a composer, had this wonderful slogan. He said, "steal from the best." So I stole from the best, because I wanted to do this type of personal film.
As Coppola notes, all artists are influenced to some degree by what they have seen and experienced, which is why I was so intrigued by The American Century Theatre's revival of three plays originally staged by Orson Welles. Jack Marshall may not have seen the original Orson Welles productions, but as Leslie's talk with him indicates, he was certainly influenced by Welles work in the theatre. And he obviously had the terrific idea to re-stage three of Welles's seminal plays at the American Century Theatre. So maybe Welles's early play, BRIGHT LUCIFER, will eventually be staged at TACT sometime in the future.
LESLIE WEISMAN: This is The American Century Theatre's (and your) third production of a play directed by Orson Welles, the others being Moby Dick Rehearsed in 2005 and The Cradle Will Rock in 1999, that helped establish him in the consciousness of the theatre--going public as a talent to be reckoned with. They also—not always to his advantage—enhanced his reputation as a maverick who not only wasn’t afraid to tackle controversial subjects, but actively sought out and seized the opportunity. What is it about Welles and his work that first attracted you, and still holds you? Have your perceptions about him changed—either because of things you’ve learned about him in the interim, or as a result of staging his plays? Or both?
JACK MARSHALL: Welles was one of the brightest comets shooting across the Broadway skies during what I would refer to as the golden age of theatre — the period beginning around when O’Neill really burst onto the scene in the early to mid twenties, all the way through the thirties and into the mid forties is when the theatre was the most exciting and taking the most risks. And Welles really showed the same kind of innovation and daring in his theatrical productions that he later did in film. And to a great extent, I thing he merged — he really was the perfect meld of artistic sensibilities, content and a sense of showmanship, and how it would appeal to an audience and be commercial. He just had a great sense of that. So in the case of all his shows, they all were shows of substance, and he also was able to strike just the perfect balance — a balance that I don’t really think the theatre has done a very good job of finding ever since: making it exciting, making it visually exciting, making it challenging but also making it commercial. So it was the perfect meld of serious issues, serious intent, with commercial presentation. That’s what struck me about Orson right off the bat.
LW: I’m going to be drawing what may seem to be some very tenuous connections here, because my focus is not just Native Son but Orson Welles, and I’d like to see where they lead.
Just a year after the success of Native Son, Welles would take up the cause of members of another minority group whose civil rights had also been abused in many parts of the country: Hispanics, specifically Mexicans [and Mexican-Americans]. The so-called Sleepy Lagoon Murder Case resulted in the conviction in Los Angeles of 17 youths of Mexican heritage (all but two American born) for the death of another, in what was more or less a kangaroo court, and Welles would do the Foreword to a booklet about the case.
In it, he writes of running into a Hispanic clarinet player at an induction center, with whom he finds he has mutual friends among Negro jazz musicians. He tells Welles about the young kids in his neighborhood with nothing to do and nowhere to go, the cops looking to run them in at the slightest provocation. “They want to fight for their country,” he says, “but they want to feel like it’s their country.” I feel a strong undercurrent of the same kind of inner conflict, this “dream denied” running through your production of Native Son. Did this case and Welles’s introduction to the pamphlet in any way feed into your concept for this production, or were you aware of them?
JACK MARSHALL: I was aware of it; I don’t think we ever talked about it. One of the things that’s tricky about Welles — it’s clear that he came from a wealthy background; he had a lot of Charles Foster Kane in him, and it’s often hard to tell where Welles’s real passion and real commitment leaves off and where his showmanship and PR sense sort of takes over. I think in the case of his interest in the Hispanic population, I think that was undeniably deeply rooted in him. He had a great love for that culture, as we know he really got himself in trouble with his film career in the process of filming a movie in South America. I think that we do learn, however, the degree to which this was very much on his radar screen, in terms of labor, in terms of civil rights issues involving many different ethnic groups and minorities. He was engaged by that. I think in the case of Native Son, I’m not convinced that he — the actual project seems to me to have been sparked more, with a little more push by John Houseman. And as was typical, Orson just grabbed it, squeezed it and made it work.
But I think you’re right; I think that these are all linked together, and tell us a great deal about Welles that really has been forgotten: that aspect of his commitment to social justice. All those issues have really been kind of lost in all the intervening years after Citizen Kane.
LW: Oh, yes. And as a matter of fact, here’s another one you may or may not be aware of: Three years later Welles would lose his job with ABC Radio over a series of broadcasts revealing (and reviling) the actions of a white Southern sheriff who took umbrage at what he saw as the lack of respect shown him by a young black soldier named Isaac Woodard, who was returning home from service in the Pacific. The sheriff pulled the soldier off the bus, threw him on the ground, and poked out his eyes with his billy club. Although Welles later said the officer was sentenced to prison, he was in fact acquitted by an all-white jury. It is events like these, I think, not this one specifically but ones like it, that are the subliminal back story for Bigger’s rage. Did you know about this event?
JACK MARSHALL: I didn’t know about that one, but there are lots and lots of equally horrible stories. Welles was truly a true progressive. He’s a hard individual to get your arms around because there were so many aspects to him. And I think like he did in many areas, he diminished his power, he diminished his influence by spreading it too thin. I still am waiting for the definitive diagnosis by somebody that tells us that Welles had Attention Deficit Disorder. Because I am convinced, everything about his career indicated that he did. And that he was unable to really make the impact in any area that his talents warranted because he was so quick to jump from one issue to another. And at the times, in the middle of the fifties, in the middle of when the civil rights movement was really gaining a foothold, it just sort of passed Welles by; he did not have the influence then to be really as great an ally as he might have been.
Those stories are great, because they help make people realize what a committed and multifaceted individual he was and that he was serious. The hard thing with Orson Welles is that he was always willing to use serious issues and the impact of serious issues as a trampoline to commercial success and great PR. And there’s nothing the matter with that, because you publicize the cause while simultaneously making it commercially viable. And he was a master of that while he was in the theatre, and he sort of somehow lost his touch once he moved to Hollywood.
LW: Well, I think he was a multitasker as opposed to a dilettante.
JACK MARSHALL: Well, he was a multitasker, but when you look at all the projects he started never finished, all of the movies he never quite completed —
LW: But not always his fault—
JACK MARSHALL: —even Moby Dick-- Rehearsed, which I’ve directed now three times; it’s probably the biggest hit our company ever had — he basically sort of gave up on a brilliant idea and then passed it over to a producer in America, to put it on. And for a while was really going to put together a serious movie about it and really never completed it — what we have is pieces of filming of the play itself that never really amounts to a movie. One of the shocking things when you read Simon Callow’s terrific two-volume biography of Welles is all of the projects that sort of started and then stopped, that he would start on one and then move to the other. To me it’s textbook. In the theatre we are all multitaskers; I am too. But there are ranges; it’s sort of a range of a spectrum. And when you get to where one task prevents you from doing another...
You know, he had trouble memorizing lines as he got older. His method of rehearsing a play really is the classic example of someone who can work best in short, intense creative bursts rather than long extensive bursts. The fact that he liked to have these incredible marathon tech rehearsals that would go on and on and on into the night until people were dropping of exhaustion. That’s the mark of a person who could focus very intensely in short bursts of energy and then once you let him down, he moves on to other things. There are people that just have too many talents. People don’t realize, Welles could design costumes, he could design lighting, he could design sets, he could write music, he could write poetry — he could do everything! One of the true quintuple-threats we’ve ever had in theatre or in the film.
LW: Absolutely. And then of course sometimes financing got in the way, too. He tried his best, he got everyone together and then the money fell through, and then he had to start something else, to get money.
JACK MARSHALL: Yes, and then there are some artists who are really best at raising money. It’s what they do well. Welles, once he got past the point where people would give money just to associate with him, he was not the kind of individual you would expect to be a great money-raiser. He wouldn’t kowtow to anybody. I often feel the biggest mistake of his life was letting John Houseman go. Because Houseman had the business sense, had the sort of strategic careful planning that would have allowed Welles to be himself without also simultaneously being his own worst enemy. In Native Son, the team was working well.
LW: In the podcast you did with director Bob Bartlett (access it here) JaBen A. Early, who plays Bigger, and Bud Stringer, who plays the defense attorney, Mr. Bartlett said he wasn’t trying to be Wright’s apologist or to to serve Orson Welles, whom he calls “something of a dictator of sorts,” adding that his approach would be more in the nature of a “team effort.” Yet Welles did inspire great loyalty among his players, as you know, several of whom — Aggie Moorehead, Jo Cotten, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Everett Sloane and others — would follow him to Hollywood and remain with him through good times and bad. Did you find any inspiration at all in Welles, or in the history of his efforts with this play, or did you (and Mr. Bartlett) consciously steer clear of it to allow your own concept free rein?
JACK MARSHALL: In the case of Native Son, you were creating a new company, and I think that that was something different than the way Orson would work in the Mercury Theatre. I should mention George Coulouris because I’m related to George Coulouris. He was my mother’s cousin. And I got to talk with him quite a bit in England before he died, and we talked a lot about Orson Welles. And you know, Coulouris was known as the complainer in the group. Uncle George was always the guy who, and for whatever reason, Welles allowed him to bitch on behalf of the rest of the cast. And Uncle George was saying, “I don’t know why that was, but I would get very ticked off, he was working in his high-handedness, and he just seemed to be willing to take it from me. And so I never felt frustrated. And I got the impression that part of his technique was to have sort of a safety valve: There would be one member of the company who would be allowed to go up to Orson and say, ‘For heaven’s sakes! We’ve been doing this for fourteen hours without a break, are you out of your mind? Give us a break, for heaven’s sake!’” And he said Welles was an impossible man in many respects, but he said he was so incredibly talented that he demanded loyalty simply because you knew how talented he was.
And you know, that’s something that you can do if you’re one of the most freakishly talented people in the history of show business. And that was Orson Welles. But for the rest of us mortals... He could get away with that. And indeed Orson couldn’t get away with it as he got older. He had trouble with the unions. He had increasing problems with being able to get his cast and crew to do the things he wanted. So what we did was to recognize, and as Orson Welles did, that with every production you have to look at who you’ve got, the audience you have, when you’re doing it, where you’re doing it, the time you’re doing it, and make your artistic decisions accordingly. There’s no question that if Orson Welles was doing Native Son in 2009 with a cast from the Washington, D.C. area in Theatre 2, it would’ve looked very different than how he would’ve done it on Broadway in that large theatre. So we’re very much using him and looked at his approach, are fully aware of it as a framework, and then you just have to reinvent the show with that in the back of your head.
LW: Mr. Bartlett also noted in the podcast that he would be using a very simple set —“actors in an empty space; that’s all we need”—so as to “bring the eleven scenes to life with a minimal construction,” in contrast to what he described as the “pyrotechnics” of Welles’s production. Interestingly, Welles’s previous productions — most famously The Cradle Will Rock, done out of necessity on a bare stage with actors in street clothes rising out of the audience to say (or sing) their lines, and his modern-dress Julius Caesar — were famous for their minimalism.
JACK MARSHALL: Yes, although as you may know, the way The Cradle Will Rock was originally staged by Welles, had it been allowed to stay in the theatre, it was outrageously complicated if he had been allowed to stage it in the theatre. I mean, he actually had hydraulics to make the stage rock. People were complaining that it was the most crazily overproduced play ever, and a lot of people, including me, believe that Welles was saved by the theatre being shut down and being able to focus it and put it in the audience and do the production he did. And I believe Welles realized it, that he had spent too much money and it would have been overwhelming for a show in a lot of respects plot-wise, and was smart enough to realize once it was stripped down that it would work better that way.
And that production taught him something; he learned a lot from The Cradle Will Rock, and he used it in productions like Moby Dick--Rehearsed, where the idea is you did it spare and you just throw a script at a bunch of actors. And he realized also that you benefit a great deal from having the creative sense of crisis and telling the audience that “I’m sorry, we don’t have our set, we don’t have our...” The number of times — I think there were at least five times — that Welles came out and began a production by saying either “”Geez, I apologize, we’re not ready, the lighting design isn’t ready” or “the actors are gonna have to use their books” or “the sound is falling apart,” or something. Because he realized that then you got the audience behind you and they became part of the production.
And he saw that with The Cradle Will Rock, he built it into Moby Dick--Rehearsed. And I think that he learned that you had to mix the pyrotechnics and the kind of incredibly complicated lighting effects and other things that he was so great at, and some of the stuff he did in Five Kings — had never been seen before — and his use of sound in Native Son, where what I would call by those days’ standards pyrotechnics came from the use of sound, where he was using records of things to do marches and all kinds of leitmotifs, and recurring sounds and all of those things, which — no one else was doing anything like that. And the use of lighting as always was phenomenal because he was a genius with lighting. So he really does put the focus very much on the actors and the script. And there’s not a lot of room for technical effects. And certainly for a play like this which has I think nine scene changes, you have to flow seamlessly from one into the other, and you don’t want it to last three hours. And so by necessity you have to be spare.
LW: Something else that brings to mind is the actual connection between your production and Welles’s in what Mr. Bartlett said about wanting simple sets, in contrast to Welles and set designer James Morcom’s “elaborate and detailed” design, to facilitate seeing the play “through a contemporary lens.” Interestingly enough, Frank Brady’s biography of Welles notes that he staged his Caesar “on a bare stage in modern dress so it could be seen as a contemporary allegory of the rise of fascism.” So you’re coming at it from similar viewpoints but yet coming out with different productions.
JACK MARSHALL: The one thing I think you’ll find that’s great about Welles is, he was so far from being a one-trick pony. He would adapt to what he — he’s coming from a background where Shakespeare was very often performed like an opera, with elaborate sets and everything else, and the thing about Welles is he wanted to get your attention, he knew how to get your attention. He cut his scripts way down to make them very spare, he did Macbeth in under two hours — nobody could ever do that — he really had all the moves! He had all the moves, and he was only — we forget, but you know, he was in his twenties when he did this. And yet he had that confidence to not [just] try new things, [but to] just dive in. And so we tried to learn, and I think it’s important for theatre generally, this is a guy who was on radio. He would use elaborate sets, elaborate lights — whatever it took to stimulate your imagination. If he could stimulate your imagination, however he did it, if he could get your attention by an acting performance, by a raised eyebrow, by a lighting trick, by a makeup trick, by sound, whatever it would take, that’s what he was after. And I think in every way, the best way to understand Orson Welles is to realize that he was very much a creature of radio, and he regarded stage as three-dimensional radio and the screen as two-dimensional radio.
LW: And going back to the mise en scène and the way it’s kind of different in your production and in Welles’s, here’s something else that Brady noted that I found interesting, and I was wondering if you might comment on it. For Welles the yellow brick that he used on his set to him symbolized “meanness, deceit, madness,” and his “multitude of sound effects ... airplanes, sirens, car horns, shouts of the street... Negro spirituals... the rhythms of the jukebox” reflected “the ‘density and richness of effect that Wright had striven for’.”
JACK MARSHALL: Yes, I think that’s great and I think that’s very perceptive.
LW: But now, I don’t think yours is quite as colorful as Welles’s production.
JACK MARSHALL: Oh, no doubt about it.
LW: So you are somehow able to bring out the meaning of the book and the meaningfulness of it in your own way. So how do you contrast the two?
JACK MARSHALL: Well, the play, you can do all sorts of things around it, but the play ultimately comes down to Bigger Thomas. And Welles recognized that. He found — one of the things he was brilliant at was casting. And he was able to find in Canada Lee truly a remarkable man. While I did know something about Orson Welles going into this production, I did not know Canada Lee. And what I read about him, I really became convinced that he is one of the truly underrated and unfairly forgotten teachers of the civil rights movement, of theatre history and of much else. A remarkable, remarkable man.
And I think you need a remarkable man to play Bigger Thomas. The character is not very sympathetic, the character is very hard to get to know, he makes horrible decisions, but you have to sense something from him, and as is often the case with great parts, a merger of the actor with the role, and the actor’s own person and soul and sensibilities and how he can with his presence change the role. And we found a terrific actor in JaBen Early, who brings his own sensibility to the part. He’s more pouting, I think, more sullen, I think, more walled-in I think than the portrayal — as I understand it from the descriptions I’ve read of the portrayal by Canada Lee. But it worked. And people can feel his frustration and his anger if they can’t understand the character. Part of the limitation of the play that has so many characters is, a lot of the characters are not fleshed out; sometimes they’re stereotypes, sometimes as props for Bigger. Bigger is the one who comes across as a real character.
And so Welles spent so much time working with Canada Lee that he really neglected some of the other, minor parts in the play, and there was some comment that performance of some of the minor parts didn’t come up to the standards of the rest of the production. And so some said this was because Canada Lee needed the extra work from Welles. I don’t think that had anything to do with it. I think Welles put his time where it had to be. He knew that he had in Canada Lee the perfect and a great actor to play Bigger, and that Bigger is the show. And everything around Bigger is really there for Bigger to react off of, for Bigger to be acted on by, and to show us what’s inside him. And that’s the way the show developed as well, I think. I mean, we had some terrific actors in the other parts. But the one you’re gonna remember is Bigger Thomas. It’s really his story and he’s the most perplexing character.
To some extent, the other characters, we’ve all seen them before, we’ve seen them in other settings, we’ve seen them in other movies; Bigger Thomas is kind of unique: a unique character in American literature. Particularly as a protagonist, and he has to be a protagonist. I think that’s really where the two productions really ended up on the same track.
LW: Yes. He’s the most antagonistic protagonist.
JACK MARSHALL: Yes. Absolutely right.
LW: My last question: You also noted in that podcast that you often select plays that have not been done much by other theatres, either because the play is challenging for the theatre or challenging for the audience. This is certainly true with Welles, and is one reason why his films never reached a mass audience (which he said he always wanted). Yet his theatrical productions were huge public successes, as were his radio broadcasts. What is it about an ambitious or demanding play — or about Welles’s plays — that makes it (or made them) more accessible to more people than a similarly challenging film?
JACK MARSHALL: Well, it’s kind of hard to compare them because theatre audiences are not really an example of mainstream America. I mean even back then, you’re talking about New Yorkers, you’re talking about wealthier people. And even with Native Son you couldn’t get an African American audience, it was almost entirely a white audience, you couldn’t get a black audience. It must have been really frustrating not to get an African American audience.
LW: But with the Voodoo Macbeth he did.
JACK MARSHALL: Yes, that’s true, he did get more of it then, but I think part of that also had to do with the pricing of the two shows. If I recall, the Voodoo Macbeth was also done as part of a WPA program, and it was priced down a little bit. But movies have always been, I think, a somewhat more trivial entertainment form than plays. Plays, especially during the heyday of the golden age of theatre, were always about serious matters — Shakespeare’s about serious matters, Miller’s about serious matters — serious, serious drama. And Welles’s theatre appealed to those audiences because that’s what the audience came to the theatre to experience. To make you think, shock you, to get you out of your comfort zone. And Welles did that very, very well, and then was also able to do visually interesting, and as I said it before, he merged these things.
But all of Welles’s movies pretty much come off as art films. And art films — I mean, Citizen Kane is an art film. Even when he was given a play that's really a typical potboiler like Touch of Evil he turned it into an art film. Art films are never big, spectacular hits; they’re for aficionados, they’re for a different kind of audience, they’re not for a big, popular audience. Orson was never going to make Star Wars or Jurassic Park. Steven Spielberg is a really talented auteur of the process of making films, but he’s aiming lower, and Welles wouldn’t aim low, he just refused to aim low. You could aim high [in the theatre], even then. Now you can’t. I don’t think Orson Welles’s plays would be popular successes today, when people are looking to The Lion King and Disney musicals... I think that that time has passed.
LW: But you’ve gotten raves for your productions of Welles’s plays.
JACK MARSHALL: Well, no, that’s right, and this is a good candidate for that. The American Century Theatre, our demographics are very unusual. We have a disproportionate number of subscribers and audience members who have graduate degrees, we have a lot of older audiences who are used to, who saw many of the shows, and have a regard for what theatre can be. Our cast has always tried to simultaneously draw younger audiences. What’s interesting is that the Welles productions do it. That’s why I hope to find and hope to do more of the Mercury Theatre productions.
LW: Have you thought about doing Julius Caesar?
JACK MARSHALL: Well, Julius Caesar is Shakespeare, and remember, we do all American plays. And of course, so many people do updates now of Julius Caesar, it would be old hat now, so it would be tougher. But you know, every time we do something and do it well, I think that much of the disrepair that American theatre is in now wouldn’t be that way if Welles had stuck with theatre. Because I think he had it right. I think he really could’ve bridged the commercial gap. I think he would’ve spawned new directors and different approaches to theatre that would’ve been able to maintain the balance between being popular and commercially viable, but would be thoughtful and challenging and have substance. And I think when he left for Hollywood, Hollywood’s gain was theatre’s loss. And I don’t think theatre ever recovered from it. I really don’t.
LW: And Hollywood didn’t appreciate him anyway.
JACK MARSHALL: That’s absolutely right. In that last interview with Peter Bogdanovich, he was talking about his obsession with films, that it really turned his life inside out, that he couldn’t get it out of his head. And I think that’s true, and it’s a shame, because the stage was the best platform for all of his various talents, even more so than film. And you know, the whole story of Orson Welles makes me sad. I started learning about him in the sixties, and then he sort of disappeared, and then he was that bearded guy who did magic tricks on on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and the strange comedy guest shots on “Red Skelton,” and would turn up in bit parts in movies like Catch 22.
Then gradually I started seeing more movies and started reading more, and realizing just what an astounding talent this man was and what he really achieved. And I absolutely agree with Orson Welles: nobody had a right to call him an underachiever. He was spectacular. But he could have achieved a whole lot more, and that’s our tragedy, not his. My favorite comment in the Peter Bogdanovich interview, what Bogdanovich said, when asked, what do you think about this guy, who created the greatest film ever made when he was  years old, and was never able to come up to the great promise of that? And he said, I think it’s incredibly presumptuous for people who have never done anything approaching that even once will call a person a failure because he hasn’t done it twice. I think that’s a great answer. I hope he believed it, and I hope he realized that none of us achieve our full potential. The thing with Orson Welles is he kept trying. He never settled into a comfort zone. And as long as I keep my job with The American Century Theatre, I want to keep reminding people of what he gave us, and not just let that stuff sit around. To realize that it’s still a gift to us today.
LW: Well, we thank you for that, and we try to do that online with Wellesnet. Have you ever visited the Website?
JACK MARSHALL: I did once I knew I was going to be talking to you! (laughter)
LW: Well, I hope you’re a regular visitor now.
JACK MARSHALL: I guarantee you I will be!
At the Internet Broadway Database, you can find photos and the cast listing for the original Welles-Houseman production HERE
True to Jack Marshall’s observation about the TACT audiences sophistication and education level, the Q & A at the end of the performance I attended included questions that would not have felt out of place at Stanford. Some dealt with textual differences between the book and the play, in which the violence (at the insistence of Paul Green, who adapted it for the stage) was more melodramatic than the book’s uncompromisingly graphic narrative descriptions. Others had more to do with character development, with one noting that “In the novel, Bigger is the archetype of the perceived black dichotomy between destructiveness and lethargy” and much more slippery, more difficult to nail down than in the play.
Welles, whose genius and courage in staging the play were readily acknowledged, nonetheless came in for some criticism for his over-the-top effects. One in particular, we were told, was Bigger’s death, done to the accompaniment of sirens, chimes and strobe lights, with guards savagely wrestling him off stage to his doom. In TACT’s production the last we see of Bigger, sitting silently in a wooden chair awaiting his death, is in stark and even shattering contrast to the violence that put him there. Different times, different places, different directors. And one can’t help but wonder: What would Welles have thought?